Here are some questions that people commonly ask about the immigration rules and procedures concerning Adjustment of Status, an application process by which people obtain lawful permanent U.S. residence.
Adjustment of Status is, at its heart, simply an application procedure: the one by which someone in the United States goes from having one immigration status, such as a temporary visa holder—or in some cases no immigration status at all—to having the status of permanent or conditional resident (green card holder), all without leaving the United States.
The adjustment of status procedure includes not only submission of various forms and documents, but an interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Contrast this with the procedure for people who either live overseas when they apply for green cards, or who aren’t eligible to use the adjustment of status procedure even though they live in the United States. Such people must use a procedure called consular processing (CP). Although some of the paperwork for CP might be handled through U.S.-based immigration offices, the final paperwork and interview are handled by a U.S. embassy or consulate, most likely in the immigrant’s home country.
It depends. The first important thing to understand is that your eligibility for a green card and your eligibility to adjust status are two different things.
Every immigrant who marries a U.S. citizen becomes an "immediate relative," in immigration law terms, and theoretically eligible for a green card. But that doesn’t mean they’re eligible to get that green card by adjusting status, even if they’re in the United States.
As it happens, people who both entered the United States legally (on a valid visa, which they weren’t misusing for the purpose of getting a green card) and are married to a U.S. citizen are in most cases eligible to adjust status. It doesn't matter if they overstayed the time permitted on their visa or entry document.
People who entered illegally and married a U.S. citizen, however, are (subject to some narrow exceptions) not eligible to adjust status. They can still use consular processing, but will likely need a waiver of their unlawful presence in order to return to the United States.
There are numerous requirements for being eligible to use the adjustment of status procedure:
If you aren’t eligible to adjust status, you might still be able to get a green card through consular processing. That should be no problem if you already live overseas. However, realize that if you’ve spent more than six months in the United States unlawfully, then you’re likely to face penalties at your visa interview requiring you to stay outside the U.S. for three or ten years, unless you qualify for a waiver.
This is definitely a topic to bring up with an immigration lawyer before you leave the U.S. for a consular interview—especially because some immediate relatives of U.S. citizens may be able to apply for a "provisional" or "stateside" waiver before leaving the U.S., which can avoid getting trapped outside for many years in cases where the waiver is denied.
The main form you must complete is Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
No matter what basis you're applying on, include a copy of an identity document issued by a government agency, such as a passport. Also include a copy of your birth certificate (translated word-for-word, if it’s not in English).
If you haven’t already received petition approval, and you’re eligible to file your petition and adjustment applications concurrently, you’ll submit either Form I-130 (and supporting documents) if your green card is family based, Form I-140 if your green card is employment based, or some other petition as appropriate (such as the I-360 for special immigrants). If you’ve already received approvals of these (or of another petition, such as an I-129F fiancé visa petition), simply submit copies of the approval notice.
Assuming you entered the U.S. legally and are adjusting status on that basis, include a copy of your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.
You must also pay a filing fee and a biometrics (fingerprinting) fee, and submit two photographs (passport style).
Unless you’re a refugee, asylee, or fiancé, you’ll also need to submit the results of a medical examination done on Form I-693 by a doctor on USCIS’s official list. People who entered on fiancé visas or as refugees don't need to repeat the medical exam that they had done earlier, but must now comply with vaccination requirements.
It’s a good idea to also submit Form I-765, application for employment authorization, allowing you to work in the United States. And if you think you might travel before your application is decided upon, be sure to submit Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.
Fiance-visa based applicants must submit a copy of their marriage certificate.
Family-based immigrants must submit an Affidavit of Support, signed by the petitioner, on Form I-864.
All applicants who aren't excused from proving that they're not inadmissible as a likely "public charge" must also fill out USCIS Form I-944, the Declaration of Self-Sufficiency. (The main categories of applicant who don't need to worry about this are refugees and asylees and VAWA and U Visa recipients.) The form requires immigrants to give details about their financial situation and prospects and access to health insurance, and state whether they have received need-based public benefits in the United States. USCIS will decide whether, based on a "totality" of the circumstances, it all adds up to the applicant likely to be self-supporting or not.
Employment-based immigrants must also submit a letter from their employer saying that the job is still available and what salary will be paid, as well as pay stub copies.
The completed packet of forms, documents, photos, and fees must be submitted to the USCIS office having jurisdiction over your U.S. place of residence; you can find the address on the I-485 Web page.
After you submit your packet, USCIS will review it for completeness. If something is missing, USCIS will return the whole thing to you for refiling.
You will be asked to visit a local USCIS office within a certain time period to submit your biometric information. Later, you will be sent an appointment for an interview.
Several months after submitting your packet, USCIS will call you, and possibly your petitioner (the U.S. citizen, resident, or employer who submitted your petition), for an interview.
If you cannot attend the interview on the appointed date, contact USCIS and request rescheduling. If you don’t request such a rescheduling and simply fail to show up at the interview, your application will be denied and you may be removed from the United States.
Bring a photo identification, such as a passport or driver's license, to the interview. You will also have to pass through a security check to get into the federal building.
During the interview, the USCIS officer will review your application and ask you questions to determine your eligibility and your petitioner's financial capacity to support you (in a family case).
If applying based on marriage, you’ll need to bring proof that you are really married and living together. Expect extra questions about your marriage, too.
If you are in the United States and believe you are eligible for a green card, but are not absolutely positive that you qualify to adjust status, or have any complicating factors in your situation such as a criminal record, see an experienced immigration attorney.